OCD in Youth May be a Red Flag for Other Psychological Issues

According to a study appearing in ScienceDaily, nearly 40 percent of youth exhibit at least one obsessive or compulsive behavior, with that behavior possibly signaling the presence of other serious psychiatric conditions.

Many children engage in repetitive and ritualistic behaviors. It’s actually a common and even healthy part of typical childhood development. However, behaviors that develop into obsessive and compulsive symptoms (OCS) can send up a red flag for serious psychiatric conditions such as depression and suicidal tendencies.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder with symptoms including obsessions and compulsions that drive the person to engage in unwanted, oftentimes distressing behaviors or thoughts. It can  be characterized by recurrent and disturbing thoughts and/or repetitive, ritualized behaviors that the person feels they must perform. Most people with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions, but about 20 percent of them just have obsessions OR compulsions alone, says PsychCentral.

It is typically treated through a combination of psychiatric medications and psychotherapy.

A Look at the Study

Researchers at the Lifespan Brain Institute (LiBI) and the Perelman School of Medicine found that children, teens, and young adults with OCS who reported having bad thoughts were more likely to experience psychopathology as well. The study was the largest of its kind to examine OCS, with more than 7,000 participants between the ages of 11 and 21. The findings were published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in 2018.

Researchers divided OCS into four categories:

  • Bad thoughts
  • Repeating/checking
  • Symmetry
  • Cleaning/contamination

More than 20 percent of youth reported having bad, intrusive thoughts of harming themselves or others, thinking about violent images or fearing they would do something bad without meaning to. These children were more likely to develop serious psychopathology going beyond just obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), including depression and thoughts of suicide.

The hope of the study findings is that health practitioners like pediatricians will dig a bit more deeply and explore signs of these symptoms during patient visits. Catching those symptoms early could be a critical factor in the identification of adolescents who may be on a potentially debilitating psychiatric path.

It’s important to note that while repetitive actions are common in young children when those behaviors continue into adolescence and begin interfering with daily activities, the root cause must be explored and treatment proposed.

Contact Comprehensive MedPsych Systems

If your child or teen suffers from OCS, OCD, anxiety, or depression, make an appointment with us today. Our psychiatrists can provide them with a psychiatric evaluation to learn more about their behavioral and emotional symptoms.